Report a pothole
Pothole repair - questions and answers
We know the condition of Swindon’s roads is an important concern for all road users. Local surveys tell us that residents regard road repairs and maintenance as a high priority for the council.
That’s why we want to be clear and open in explaining our approach, including the challenges and financial constraints we face.
Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local councils’ road repair budgets is why the Local Government Association estimate it would take councils in England £14 billion, and more than a decade, to clear the current local roads repair backlog.
The following questions and answers explain how we manage pothole repairs.
Although we always consider the location of damage and the hazard it may create, generally on a road or pavement, a pothole is defined as:
A safety defect that is at least 40mm deep in the road surface (roughly the height of two 20p coins). This is a standard measurement criteria used by many local authorities.
These are risk assessed and potholes that pose a very high level of safety risk are completed within 24 hours. We aim to complete all other pothole repairs within 10 working days, with the majority completed within 5 working days. Other defects may be programmed for a longer period of repair of up to six weeks.
Other road damage
Residents may sometimes report what they think is a pothole, but around 30% actually fall outside the investigation criteria.
Defects less than at least 40mm deep are risk assessed in line with our Carriageway and Footway Defects Management Plan to determine if the defect is a hazard and if a repair is necessary.
As the road surface ages, it becomes more porous, and rainwater gets in through cracks. In wet weather the pressure created by traffic passing over the area forces water further down into the road surface, weakening it.
In winter, as the temperature changes between freezing and thawing, there is a faster deterioration of road surfaces, because the water filling cracks freezes and expands, loosening chunks of the surface material. Once a pothole has formed it will quickly grow as traffic continually dislodges and removes weakened and broken pieces of the surface.
Between April 2022 and the end of March 2023, we repaired 9,932 potholes in the borough.
The weather and time of year impacts on how many repairs we can complete each month. During spells of very cold weather, we are unable to carry out our normal pothole repairs because the asphalt material used to fill them doesn’t set properly in extreme temperatures. Also, when we have gritted the roads, salt is only removed to fix very high risk potholes.
After the gritting season is over (April onwards), we usually see an increase in the number of potholes on the roads so a lot of our resources are focussed on repairing potholes created during the winter. The summer is also a good time to repair roads outside schools, to avoid term-time disruption to parents dropping off children.
Repairs can take place in wet weather, but that’s not ideal as moisture can get trapped in the repair which can reduce how long it lasts.
Local road maintenance expenditure can be classified as ‘revenue’ or ‘capital’ and are covered by a combination of our own revenues and central government grants. Money spent on pothole repairs is classed as revenue (day-to-day) expenditure, whereas investment in resurfacing or upgrading a road is classed as capital expenditure. All roads have an eventual 'end of life'. This is when the structure finally deteriorates to a point where it must be replaced completely. Resurfacing or upgrading a road address existing potholes on those roads, but this work is expensive and limited funding means only a relatively small amount of Swindon’s 522 miles of roads are prioritised for this work annually.
In England, central government funding for fixing potholes on local roads comes out of generic highways maintenance funds, which the Department for Transport (DfT) allocates by formula to local authorities. The DfT allows local authorities to spend this funding as they see fit in line with their statutory duty for highway maintenance. The funding can be used for all parts of the highway network, such as bridges, cycleways, and lighting columns – not just fixing potholes. The Government has also occasionally allocated additional pots of funding for pothole repairs.
In 2023, £2.05 million in revenue expenditure will be allocated to day-to-day highways maintenance, including reactive pothole repairs but also all other maintenance work related to roads, pavements and cycle paths. Meanwhile just under half the £4.05m of capital funding in 2023/24, that comes from a government grant, will be allocated to planned major and minor road resurfacing work, which will address existing potholes on those roads as part of the works.
Around 80% of the Council’s annual budget is prioritised on providing essential social care services to look after and protect adults and children. The other 20% funds all our other services.
Inflation plus the rising cost and demand for essential social care services means, like most local authorities, we only have limited funding available for repairing potholes.
Although we sometimes successfully bid for, or receive, additional funding from the Government, this can only be spent on the specific purpose for which it has been granted. As an example, the Government awarded Swindon £25 million to contribute to the Fleming Way improvements currently underway. This money can only be spent on that specific project.
We have a team of five highway inspectors who regularly check the Borough’s entire highway network to identify potholes and other problems on the roads and pavements.
They walk all 522 miles of Swindon’s roads and all 646 miles of paths/pavements and 76 miles of cycle paths at least once a year. In addition, the team inspect busier routes such as A or B roads in a slow-moving vehicle on a monthly basis.
While the majority of potholes are identified by our team of inspectors, we encourage residents to report new road damage that we may not know about. All potholes reported to us will be risk assessed by our highways inspectors if they are on the adopted highway. They will make a decision on whether it poses a safety hazard to road users or if it does not meet our intervention level.
If you see a pothole circled in yellow paint, it means we have already inspected and identified it for urgent repair within 24 hours.
If you see an area with a yellow square painted around it, this means we have identified it as part of our patching programme and will aim to carry out the repair within six weeks. But some repairs may take a lot longer depending on the location, as we need to arrange for licences or traffic management to safely do the work.
If there is no yellow paint around a pothole (a defect deeper than 40mm), we may not be aware of it so please report it.
From the point of inspection, the timescale to repair a pothole will depend on the risk assessment which takes into account:
- its depth
- its surface area
- the safety risk to road users
- the location and usage of the road
Each pothole is risk assessed and those that pose a very high level of safety risk are repaired within 24 hours. Each pothole is risk assessed and those that pose a very high level of safety risk are repaired within 24 hours. We aim to complete all other pothole repairs within 10 working days, with the majority completed within 5 working days. Other defects may be programmed for a longer period of repair of up to six weeks.
The weather may also impact on timeframes, as we also can’t repair potholes in extreme weather, such as snow, heavy rain, extreme heat or if there’s grit on the road.
A pothole repair involves ‘cutting out’ the weakened area. The hole is then cleaned out and painted with a coat of a liquid bitumen binder which acts like a glue when the hole is filled with a hot layer of asphalt material, which is then compacted. This hot material is used on the vast majority of repairs as it is more pliable, easier to set and bring on site. Each repair takes about 20 minutes to do.
For small potholes, we use an asphalt product called Ultracrete. It is laid cold and designed to be a first-time fix. This is often used to repair emergency potholes outside of usual operating hours as hot tarmac requires a specialist vehicle to be onsite (shown in the image below).
This photo shows the hot layer of asphalt being collected from a lorry that travels around with the repair team.
This photo shows the specialist vehicle that stores and keeps the hot asphalt material at the correct temperature to use to fill potholes
In the photo below, the pothole was circled in yellow paint, meaning it was inspected and risked assessed for repair within 24 hours.
This video shows a compactor being used to flatten the asphalt. Poured cold water helps to cool down the hot material to prevent vehicles leaving tyre tread marks in the repair.
Sometime a section of road may need to be repaired, which is known as a ‘patch repair’. This video shows the team using a piece of equipment called a ‘multi hog’ to efficiently strip away the top 50-60mm of the existing road surface, which otherwise would need to be done manually using drills. Fresh tarmac is then laid ontop:
We currently have one multi hog vehicle. They cost around £140,000 to buy and require a crew to deploy, so any investment in further vehicles review is dependent on available budget.
This sped up video shows a start to finish patch repair using the multi hog:
Patch repairs lasts for years, but cost many thousands of pounds to complete as it requires considerable amounts of labour, equipment and materials. The work has to be planned well-advance and often require road closures and licences which can take months to arrange.
Other types of repairs include shallow resurfacing and surface treatments, suitable on roads at an early stage of deterioration. This is used as a standalone treatment or to extend the life of permanent patching. It seals the surface to prevent water entering and further deterioration. This can also restore skid resistance and result in minor improvements to the ride quality and visual appearance of road surfaces.
Finally, reconstruction is a complete rebuild of a road which will last for decades. This replaced a worn-out road which may have many potholes. It can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and often requires many months of road closures or traffic management measures to enable the work.
A simple pothole can be repaired by two workmen with minimum machinery and materials and costs around £48 to repair each one.
When a more long-term repair is needed, such as a patch repair, we need to dig the road up and replace a larger, often deeper quantity of material than a simple pothole repair. Carrying out the work, with skilled operatives, all the vehicles, compaction plant and hot material they need, costs around £83 per metre square. In addition to this, the cost of any traffic management, such as road closures or traffic lights, needs to be added which could amount to several thousands of pounds.
With some exceptions, all repairs are considered permanent at the time of completion. Sometimes we know that a particularly deep pothole will create additional problems to the road surface around it, so we will fix the initial hole and programme a patch to this section of the road at a later date. These are temporary repairs in that we know we will need to dig them back up again. Visually, these may not always look great but the priority is quickly making the road safe for all users. Unfortunately, there are sometimes sections of a road that we know our permanent repair will not last very long and will become a pothole again in a short space of time. There are several reasons for this which include being unable to get on the road due to the disruption a lane or road closure would cause, a future resurfacing scheme is due to start, damage to the base material of the road requiring a more major intervention or cost due to the traffic management requirements.
Below is a resident comment from our online ‘report a pothole’ process in relation to a specific location in Swindon:
This is an example of where multiple temporary repairs may be needed before a permanent repair can take place. Temporary repairs are often far more cost effective and be carried out quickly to make the road safe for all users. The alternative would otherwise be to wait potentially months to plan and organise a permanent repair. On busy roads this involves introducing traffic management measures and partially or fully closing a road causing disruption to road users.
The condition of the underlying road may mean a temporary repair doesn’t hold. Weather is also a factor. If it’s too wet, or too cold or a gritter has been out, the repair won’t set properly. In these cases, we fill the hole temporarily and then come back to do the permanent repair when the weather has improved. If we did the main fix in bad weather it could break quickly, wasting time and money.
Swindon’s roads are often very busy, with thousands of cars using a single road every day, so general wear and tear will impact the stability of the pothole and the road itself. The underlying condition of the road, rather than the quality of the repair, can also cause potholes to reoccur. Reconstructing and resurfacing whole roads is expensive, and we only have a limited budget available.
The majority of repairs take place from early in the morning to mid-afternoon during the working week. But our out of hours team respond to pothole reports that require urgent repairs.
Yes, but the weather and time of year impacts on how many repairs we can complete each month. We can’t repair potholes in extreme weather, such as snow, heavy rain, extreme heat or if there’s grit on the road, because the filling material doesn’t set properly.
After the gritting season is over (April onwards), our resources can be focussed on repairing potholes created during the winter. The summer is also a good time to repair roads outside schools, to avoid term-time disruption to parents dropping off children.
Repairs can be carried out in wet weather, but this is not ideal as moisture can get trapped in the repair which can reduce how long it lasts.
On a normal day, we have 3-4 staff out across the borough repairing potholes and a team of 5-6 staff conducting patch repairs (a section of road that may contain several potholes).
Your online report which will be investigated by the team. You’ll receive an automated acknowledgement email with a unique tracking code and then a further email to update you on the outcome of the investigation.
Around 30% of road defects reported by the public actually fall outside the standard investigation criteria we use to be classed as a pothole. A pothole is safety defect that is at least 40mm deep in the road surface (roughly the height of two 20p coins).
Defects less than least 40mm deep are risk assessed in line with our Carriageway and Footway Defects Management Plan to determine if the defect is a hazard and if a repair is necessary.
If the reported road defect has been repaired, you’ll be sent an email to let you know. Potholes risk assessed with a very high level of safety risk are completed within 24 hours. We aim to complete all other pothole repairs within 10 working days, with the majority completed within 5 working days. Other defects may be programmed for a longer period of repair of up to six weeks.
If your report was not classed as a pothole or if it is not deemed an immediate priority for repair, you will receive confirmation of this. The defect will be monitored and/or repaired as part of our routine maintenance and resurfacing plans.
Please use this map and online form to report damage to a pavement, footpath or cycle path. You can also use this to report roads in poor condition where this is not pothole-related.
Funds from vehicle excise duty (VED) and fuel duty don’t come directly to local authorities - these are collected by central government. Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local councils’ road repair budgets is why the Local Government Association estimate it would take councils in England £14 billion, and more than a decade, to clear the current local roads repair backlog.
You may be entitled to a compensation claim against the Council if you or your property has been damaged because of a fault in a road, pavement or cycle path. The outcome of a claim depends on many different factors and you are not automatically entitled to compensation.
A claim form is available on our website to download. All legitimate claims are assessed individually and fairly and, where the Council is negligent, we will seek to settle the claim as quickly as possible. More information on making a claim is available in this document: Making a liability claim against the council.